A stylized graphic of two hypodermic needles breaking apart, flanked by partially translucent OAN logos on either side, all against an orange background.
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

OAN’s months-long campaign against COVID-19 vaccines

One America News has spent the last several months feeding its audience misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccines, insisting that they are unproven and unsafe -- even as the delta variant continues to devastate unvaccinated people.

Widespread vaccinations have kept COVID-19 statistics far from their earlier peaks, however large numbers of unvaccinated Americans have meant that new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all rising in the United States. Crucially, the delta variant is hospitalizing younger and healthier people than previous iterations of the virus did, most of them unvaccinated. 

OAN discourages viewers from getting vaccinated with false impressions of danger stemming from exaggerations and misleading claims about “the experimental vaccines.” OAN talent and guests have denied the efficacy of the vaccines, blamed them for “causing the mutations” of COVID-19, suggested that vaccination is the “collectivist” Marxist agenda, spread conspiracy theories about vaccine “shedding,” and compared vaccination efforts to a litany of abuses, including Nazism and Britney Spears' conservatorship, suggesting that “the so-called conspiracy theorists were probably right all along.” 

While OAN figures sometimes protest that they simply want all vaccine information available so people can make an informed choice, OAN’s vaccine programming reveals the network’s preferred choice. Misleading or misinformative arguments, particularly around side effects, often appear in the same segments, underscoring the editorial line OAN pushes in any way possible: The vaccines are more dangerous than taking your chances with COVID-19.

OAN’s audience appears to get the message. According to a poll analysis in FiveThirtyEight, among Republicans who get their news from far-right sources such as OAN, 32% said they would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, and another 37% were unsure if they wanted to be vaccinated.

  • OAN segments exaggerating risks from side effects

  • Like many medicines, COVID-19 vaccines do carry a risk of side effects. In most cases these are mild symptoms like fatigue, though there have been rare reports of more serious side effects such as heart inflammation. Side effects present within a few months of injection and in most cases clear up within weeks; because mRNA rapidly degrades in the body, the risk of long-term side effects is extremely low. Furthermore, it remains true that the risk of any vaccine side effects is significantly lower than the risk posed by COVID-19 to an unvaccinated person. [University of Alabama, 7/6/21; Forbes, 7/26/21]

    • OAN’s Pearson Sharp: “The fallout from the coronavirus vaccine continues to grow, and the toll on human life is now worse than anyone could have imagined. … The vaccine, for now, seems more problematic than the disease it’s intended to cure.” 
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    Citation From June 30, 2021, programming on One America News

    • Sharp has repeatedly speculated that thousands of Americans have died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Variations of this claim are a common lie in right-wing media, based on a misinterpretation of data from the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). [OAN, 5/27/21, 7/11/21; Media Matters, 5/13/21]
    • OAN guest: “For some reason, young women who have no idea what this could possibly do maybe, effects on fertility, effects on other diseases,” are pressured to get vaccinated. In a segment criticizing pop star Olivia Rodrigo for supporting vaccination efforts, Federalist senior editor Chris Bedford suggested to OAN that the vaccines might cause infertility in the young girls that Rodrigo and others said should be vaccinated, and he argued that people “who are concerned are absolutely right to be concerned” until vaccines receive full FDA approval. 
    • Guest Dr. Brian Tyson: “We don’t know what the long-term effects are with this vaccine, … Until we know, then the answer is, we should not be giving it.” Though Tyson was responding to a question about vaccinating children, his commentary earlier in the segment focused on his adult patients having “an inflammatory response” to the vaccines, and that “a majority” of his clinic’s COVID-positive cases were in vaccinated people. [OAN, 5/26/21]
  • OAN segments spreading conspiracy theories

  • Like many other things, COVID-19 vaccines have become the subject of countless conspiracy theories. Contrary to the spirited assertions of some, the vaccines are not a Marxist plot to control the population and take away freedom.

    • OAN panelist: Joe Biden “needs to go door to door to regular Americans … to say ‘the federal government is going to micromanage your life, and if you don’t fall in line then we’ll get you.’” The panelist said door-to-door vaccination campaigns targeted “regular Americans” while allowing undocumented immigrants to come in unvaccinated because the latter will vote for Democrats (undocumented immigrants are not allowed to vote in federal elections). The guest concluded, “It’s all fear. That’s all it is.” [Weekly Briefing, 7/10/21; FindLaw, 10/16/20]
    • BlazeTV host: Vaccination drives are “this collectivist mentality” that will “push us back into Marxism.” Sara Gonzales, who hosts a show on BlazeTV, said “that’s the only thing that I can take away from” efforts to vaccinate people against a deadly pandemic. 
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    Citation From the June 23, 2021, edition of OAN's Tipping Point

    • Dan Ball falsely reported vaccine “shedding” as “scientifically proven.” The conspiracy theory is not a fact, but Ball pushed it in an interview with an Airbnb host whose listing contained the same conspiracy theory and who was removed for banning vaccinated guests. There is no “shedding” with COVID-19 vaccines. [Real America with Dan Ball, 6/1/21; Nebraska Medicine, 4/24/21]
    • Ball: Vaccination is part of a cyclical liberal plot “taking away our freedom and liberties and control.” In a discussion with BlazeTV’s Chad Prather, Ball claimed that “every so many years or decades,” the left attempts to see how much freedom it can steal, and COVID-19 vaccines are the latest front in this multigenerational war. Prather added that this is similar to how the government controls “lower income folks, urban communities, minority communities” with welfare. 
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    Citation From the May 14, 2021, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball

    • Former Rep. Vernon Jones (R-GA): A shadowy Marxist is using Joe Biden “to throw our Constitution in the trash can … and Joe’s going to pay for that.” After declaring that he would not get vaccinated, Jones theorized with no evidence that an unnamed “socialist” or “Marxist” is manipulating Biden to overthrow the Constitution, and that “people are going to rise up” in response to this “police state” of vaccination campaigns. [Real America with Dan Ball, 5/14/21]
    • OAN provided live coverage of the conspiracy theory-fueled “Health and Freedom Conference.” The disorganized conference, held on April 17 and 18, featured a wide array of conspiracy theories and false claims about the 2020 election and COVID-19, including a deranged rant by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell in which he defended his previous comments that COVID-19 vaccines are “the mark of the beast.” [OAN, 4/17/21; Media Matters, 3/11/21, 2/6/21; The Daily Beast, 4/21/21]
    • The “demon sperm” doctor told OAN that “the media is just hyping” COVID-19 “because they want to sell vaccines.” On April 15, OAN interviewed Dr. Stella Immanuel, who previously went viral for blaming the pandemic on the ejaculate of demons. OAN’s chyron displayed Dr. Immanuel’s lie that vaccines are not necessary, and she also lied that COVID-19 coverage is just a media marketing campaign for a vaccine which is free at point of care. The report ran at least five times according to Media Matters databases. [OAN, 4/15/21; The Washington Post, 7/29/20]
    • OAN reported that COVID-19 detection research “does appear to prove the so-called conspiracy theorists were probably right all along.” A speculative April 13 report on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) so-called “COVID microchip,” which is designed as an early-detection mechanism for potential COVID-19 exposure (and which is not a microchip) concluded with the wildly irresponsible claim that “the idea of microchip[ping] humans due to COVID-19 does appear to prove the so-called conspiracy theorists were probably right all along." [OAN, 4/13/21; Health Feedback, 4/22/21
    • OAN reported that Biden is “tracking vaccine hesitant Americans,” which could be “an invasion of privacy and HIPAA.” The OAN news report hyped the discussion of possible door-to-door vaccination campaigns as a Biden plan to track the people and have “pro-vaccine activists … go door-to-door… and tell residents to get their shots.” The report noted that “critics are calling the tactic fearmongering and an invasion of privacy and HIPAA,” which it is not. [OAN, 6/29/21; Associated Press, 7/15/21; Department of Health and Human Services, 6/9/21]
  • OAN segments denying vaccine efficacy

  • All COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing serious illness and death. Though no vaccine is 100% effective, vaccination still provides significant protection from COVID-19. Studies are still underway to learn more about vaccine efficacy and to improve their performance against variants -- but it is clear that they work. [Nature, 6/4/21]

    • OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp: “You’ll still get infected and may even have a slight cold. But hey, at least you have the vaccine.” In a lengthy segment disputing part of a CNN town hall with President Joe Biden, Sharp compared COVID-19 to “the common cold” and denied the purpose of the vaccines by hyping “so-called breakthrough COVID cases” and deaths, misleadingly suggesting that authorities have claimed that vaccines are 100% effective. The entire segment was set to ominous orchestral music. [OAN, 7/28/21
    • OAN guest Dr. Brian Tyson: COVID-19 vaccines “seem to be causing the mutations and making the vaccine less effective.” In addition to blaming mutations on the vaccines, Tyson -- who also supplied OAN host Dan Ball with a hydroxychloroquine regimen when Ball was ill with COVID-19 -- claimed that “they’re telling you they need a third shot, or a second shot … because the vaccines aren’t efficient and they’re not effective.” [Real America with Dan Ball, 7/12/21; Twitter, 4/1/21]
    • Dr. Tyson: COVID-19 vaccines are “actually probably not working at all” against the delta variant. Tyson claimed that “45% of the vaccinated are responsible” for new delta variant infections, somehow showing that the vaccines are “probably not working at all,” whereas “the best [protection] is the natural immunity. Those who’ve had COVID before are not getting COVID again.” [Real America with Dan Ball, 6/29/21]
    • Sharp reported on “mounting evidence that the experimental vaccines are not only ineffective at preventing the virus, they could also be life-threatening.” Sharp’s report largely relied on hyping breakthrough infections and the risk of side effects. He also lied that all COVID-19 vaccines are less effective than “the hydroxychloroquine cocktail.” [OAN, 4/23/21; Bloomberg, 4/1/21]
  • OAN segments comparing vaccination efforts and things like conservatorships and segregation

  • In another example of the endless victimhood narrative perpetuated by some in right-wing media, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination campaigns get compared to abuses of power, including some of the nation’s worst historical sins. Encouraging vaccination and attempting to protect public health bear no reasonable comparison to racial segregation or “the George Floyd stuff.”

    • A Turning Point USA host compared “mandatory vaccines” to pop star Britney Spears’ conservatorship. During a conversation about Spears’ conservatorship, the OAN guest suddenly claimed that, “If you're somebody who is outraged about Britney’s forced IUD, but you’re also calling for everyone to have mandatory vaccines, then you have no standing to harp about medical freedom in this country. The irony is, under leftist vaccine policies, we are all Britney.” 
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    Citation From the June 25, 2021, edition of OAN's In Focus with Stephanie Hamill

    • OAN guest: Businesses requiring vaccinations means “segregation is back. It’s one of Democrats’ favorite long-standing policies.” Rogan O’Handley, a white right-wing personality, claimed that just as Democrats “pushed segregation in the Jim Crow era, … now they’re pushing medical segregation in the modern day.” [In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, 5/26/21]
    • A right-wing podcaster said mask requirements for unvaccinated people are “a Fourth Amendment violation” just like “the George Floyd stuff.” Attorney and Conservative Review host Daniel Horowitz complained: “They’re saying with the George Floyd stuff now that excess force is not just if a cop hits someone, but also restricts their breathing. They want to say that that is a Fourth Amendment violation. I don't see why [a mask requirement for the unvaccinated] is any different.” [Tipping Point, 5/21/21]
  • OAN segments featuring complaints of persecution

  • COVID-19 vaccination campaigns are plainly about controlling the spread of a pandemic by inoculating people against it. There is simply no evidence that present methods are persecutory toward any populations, or otherwise undermine the Constitution.

    • Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington likened vaccine advocacy to anti-white, anti-Christian persecution. Harrington complained that the media say “you cannot question” the vaccine, but if Christians don’t want a vaccine, then “that’s their right.” Harrington also claimed that “an entire race and religion” is being classified “as a “quote-unquote ‘major problem’ that needs to be dealt with.” 
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    Citation From the April 8, 2021, edition of OAN's The Real Story with Natalie Harp

    • OAN’s Kara McKinney: “Is this still America? It doesn’t seem like it.” McKinney complained that “you’re not allowed to ask any questions, or else you’re going to be excommunicated as some kind of an anti-vaxxer, even if you’re currently up-to-date on all of your normal vaccinations.” She also suggested that companies “imposing vaccine mandates” on their employees threaten the very essence of the United States. [Tipping Point, 6/23/21]
  • OAN segments downplaying the dangers of COVID-19 to young people

  • Although children have a much lower risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 than adults, at least 491 children have died from the disease. Like adults, children with underlying health conditions are at a greater risk. Also like adults, children can spread COVID-19 to others even if they have no symptoms, though the transmission risk is lower. While younger adults are at relatively lower risk for serious illness and death compared to the elderly, patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s have made up a large and growing proportion of COVID-19 hospitalizations for months. [Harvard University, 7/10/21; National Geographic, 12/10/20; NPR, 5/1/21]

    • OAN host Stephanie Hamill: “If you’re, like, a young, healthy person … you might say, ‘Hey, well, you know what? Maybe I don’t need” a vaccine. In a discussion about “this huge pressure campaign” from the National Football League to get players vaccinated, Hamill argued that it was perfectly acceptable for young, healthy people to skip vaccination. Her guest, a BlazeTV host, maintained that opting out of vaccination is “an informed decision” -- and denied that he would get vaccinated, citing his “pretty deep background” in “molecular biology, genetic engineering … vaccine development, and virology.” [OAN, 7/23/21]
    • Regular OAN guest: “Keep the kids safe” by “letting them catch … COVID.” Rogan O’Handley, an online right-wing personality, reasoned that “letting” children contract COVID-19 “has an infinitesimally small risk to their well-being,” unlike “experimental” COVID-19 vaccines.      
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    Citation From the May 26, 2021, edition of OAN's In Focus with Stephanie Hamill

    • Tipping Point host Kara McKinney: “For my age group of being under 25, the flu is about as deadly to me as COVID is, if not more.” McKinney continued, “Since I've never wanted to get a flu vaccine, I'm not going to get the COVID one. There are breakthrough COVID deaths and bad reactions related to the vaccines, so to pretend that they are without any kind of risk is silly." [Tipping Point, 5/18/21]
  • OAN segments with other misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccines

    • OAN guest Wayne Allyn Root: “COVID’s back. My only denial is that it’s any different than a terrible, nasty flu.” Root, a talk radio host and conspiracy theorist, suggested that we do “nothing” in response to the pandemic, like devastating influenza pandemics in the 20th century. Root maintained that “lots of vaccinated people have COVID” due to undocumented immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border. [OAN, 7/27/21]
    • OAN correspondent: Whatever happened to “my body, my choice”? Jezzamine Wolk complained that vaccination drives are “coming from the party that likes to say ‘my body, my choice’ when they have a human growing inside of them. But now they’re saying everyone must get the vaccine. … It’s just completely hypocritical.” She also stressed that “whether or not you choose to get the vaccine, whether the pros outweigh the cons, that's up to you.” [In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, 4/9/21
    • OAN guest: We’re about to see “the downward spiral of our country -- Rome is burning,” ignited by the pressure to “pump an unknown chemical into my body.” While fearmongering about the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, BlazeTV’s Chad Prather said vaccination efforts were simply about “control.” [Real America with Dan Ball, 5/14/21]
    • OAN guest warned that a vaccination requirement for active-duty soldiers will help emasculate the U.S. military and lead to Chinese domination. Talk radio host Jesse Kelly also blamed this future conquest by China on mask mandates, and efforts to make Black and transgender people feel welcome.
    • Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, originator of the hydroxychloroquine craze, detailed so-called “vaccine regret”: “We don’t have enough information. And to go and say this is an approved vaccine, it’s not. It’s a lie. Most people that are panicked act out of fear, and not out of deductive reasoning and analytic thought, and that’s when people make really bad decisions. I have a lot of patients who have regret, vaccine regret, for taking it or encouraging their parents to take it.” [OAN, 5/4/21
    • A British political commentator protested: “I'm saying no” to the vaccine. “I'm perfectly healthy, thank you very much.” Laurence Fox continued, “I do not need your vaccine. And if I was even to consider your vaccine, I wouldn't do so until after 2023, when it finishes full clinical trials. That’s — I'm not going to be the guinea pig of someone's vaccine program.” [The Real Story with Natalie Harp, 4/26/21]